I had dinner with my dear friends Martha and Bill in May of 2002, a few months before I moved to New York. They were impressed that I was moving to NYC with no job, no apartment, and no roommate. Martha told me that she had a couple of nieces in New York, and maybe they’d be able to help me out. I took this to mean I’d give them a ring when I got in town, we’d have lunch, and they might have a lead on a job or something.
Martha called me at work the morning after our dinner and gave me the name and phone number of the guy who would soon become my roommate! That’s what you call a friend, right? Martha’s niece Becca Fischer is the first violinist in the Chiara String Quartet. The quartet was moving to New York, and the cellist, Greg Beaver, was the only person who still needed a roommate. We talked on the phone, he seemed like a nice guy, and we decided to become roommates when we moved in mid-August. We made a date to meet in the city at the end of June, to look for an apartment.
All our friends laughed at us that we gave ourselves a week to find an apartment. We figured we might not find something in that week, but if we didn’t we’d do the couch tour when we did move, and something would eventually turn up. Greg and I met at a Starbucks by Lincoln Center and liked each other immediately. We went uptown that afternoon to start the hunt. The other three members of the quartet were living in Inwood, so that’s where we were looking, too. Greg had the brilliant idea to go door to door, ring the super, and ask if there are any vacancies in the building. We took the A uptown, got out at 200 St/Dyckman, and started walking around. We saw a building we liked, looked in the window, the lobby looked nice. We rang the super, asked if there were any vacancies, and he said someone had moved out three days before. He buzzed us in and brought us up to the apartment. We liked it a lot and said we were definitely interested. He brought us down to his apartment, called the management company, and we were in their offices that afternoon filling out paperwork. We got the only apartment we looked at. It took us fifteen minutes to find an apartment. No one has ever heard a story like this.
We moved in August and Greg became my favorite roommate ever. His girlfriend (now wife), Hyeyung, is the second violinist in the quartet, and she eventually moved in downstairs. The other two members, Becca and Jonah, lived not far away. They rehearsed in our living room, and I enjoyed sitting in my bedroom and listening to them rehearse (this was before I found a job).
They moved to Lincoln, Nebraska sometime around 2005, they’re still artists in residence there. I got another roommate, the marvelous Claire, and then Richard moved in - - the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve stayed in touch with the quartet since they moved and have seen them perform every chance I get. They did a concert on Friday 3/21 at the Greene Space on WQXR, and I was there.
They’ve recorded all of the Brahms string quartets - - they started this project a few years ago and weren’t so taken with the results. They tried to think of how they could do a better job with them, have a deeper connection to the music and to each other, and they decided to try memorizing them. This led to them memorizing a lot of the music they do. This isn’t unprecedented, but it’s very unusual.
They played the first movement of the Ravel quartet, the pizzicato movement of the 4th Bartok quartet, and the complete Brahms 2nd quartet in A minor. Their playing always amazes me. They have the perfect balance of precision and passion, their performances are always coursing with intelligence and expression. The Ravel was luscious, gave me chills. The Bartok is my favorite quartet ever, I heard them play it not long after we all moved to New York, and that performance stands as one of the high points of my concert-going experience. They’re performing all of the Bartok quartets on two concerts (I think they’re doing them from memory), and I seriously considered flying into Lincoln to hear them, but the dates didn’t work out for me. Heavy sigh. Brahms is not my favorite composer (not by a long shot), but they played this quartet beautifully, it was a joy to hear.
You know how I love to talk about audience behavior. This a-hole next to me was wearing a tight leather jacket. He was quiet for the Ravel, but during the Bartok, which, being played pizzicato, was very quiet, he started wiggling around, folding, unfolding, and refolding his arms, and with every movement there was a CREAK!!! of his skanky leather jacket. I glared at him, also five or six other people surrounding him. How can people be so thoughtless.